If you don’t think technology has been a part of Wisconsin’s dairy industry since its humble beginnings, then consider the story of professor Stephen M. Babcock and his butterfat test.

You may know Babcock’s name if for no other reason than the dairy store on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus is named in his honor. It’s where visitors can buy ice cream, cheese and milk in seemingly endless flavors and forms, all within a setting that speaks to the university’s historic role in defining Wisconsin as America’s Dairyland.

Babcock’s contributions to that image and reality began in 1890, his first year on campus, with the publication of a simple chemistry experiment. He discovered that all of the compounds of milk — except for the fat — dissolve in sulfuric acid. He devised a test that involved adding sulfuric acid to a known quantity of milk, centrifuging the sample to condense the fat, and calculating the milk fat or “butterfat” content based on the amount of fat recovered per volume of milk tested.

It was an easily conducted field test that revolutionized dairy farming because it took the guesswork out of production, because milk without sufficient butterfat cannot be made into most of the dairy products we enjoy today.

Read this commentary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here

It also laid the foundation for an agricultural industry built on quality, science and innovation, from the laboratories and “dairy short courses” of a still-young university, to the barns of Wisconsin and to the tables of a growing nation.

Roll forward 120-plus years and Wisconsin’s dairy industry faces new challenges to its continued prosperity, from environmental pressures on the land and water that sustain it to consumer trends that compel product innovation.

Fostering that kind of innovation is the goal of a new project within the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, one of the world’s leading centers for discovery within an industry that has become international in every way.

Known by the acronym TURBO, for Tech Transfer, University Research and Business Opportunity, the program will be unveiled publicly Thursday at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. That’s where the International Cheese Technology Expo, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and other partners are meeting as part of an annual conference.

The goal for TURBO seems simple enough: Use principles common to business accelerators to ramp up commercialization of novel dairy technologies and products. It’s aimed at removing speed bumps that often slow the process of “transferring” technology from the lab bench — where too many ideas remain stuck — to companies and consumers.

Potential users of TURBO could include companies interested in incorporating more health-oriented dairy ingredients in their products, companies looking for more efficient production processes, and entrepreneurs with their own dairy technologies that could benefit from the center’s testing and development capabilities.

Large companies and individual entrepreneurs alike also can license technologies from the Center of Dairy Research’s patent portfolio or access other technologies that might not be patentable but are otherwise available.

“Whether your company is interested in licensing a CDR technology or working with CDR to develop a novel technology or product, the TURBO program can help bring your idea to the market,” said Vic Grassman, the center’s manager for technology commercialization.

What’s on the shelf? Here are a few examples:

■A process that can be used to separate beta-casein for more efficient commercial use. Applications include use as a food ingredient, coffee whitener, whipping and foaming applications, infant formula and even pharmaceuticals.

■Technology that can accelerate the ripening or “aging” of cheese while improving texture and extending shelf life.

■A process for manufacturing a high-protein, cheddar-like cheese snack with a minimum of 36% protein. Applications include a school lunch program, snack sticks, athletic snacks and weight management programs.

■Technology that can produce a low-fat mozzarella-type cheese with improved texture and baking properties, with applications for pizza, frozen meals and school lunch programs.

Wisconsin’s dairy industry obviously has come a long way since Babcock’s butterfat test, but changing consumer, production, energy and environmental demands mean science and technology are just as important to the industry today as they were at the turn of the century.

Dairying is one of the Wisconsin economy’s traditional staples, and it’s also an evolving industry that must continuously adapt. The existence of assets such as the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research means Wisconsin has a better chance than most states and nations to stay on the cutting edge of the world’s cheese board.